The Ministry of National Defence has issued a new Defence White Paper – the third such plan to have been introduced since 2000 – that details Cambodia’s policy and strategy to modernise the Kingdom’s armed forces, as it continues to dismiss rumours of Chinese military presence at Ream Naval Base.

The plan illustrates the government’s long-term strategy in the defence and security sectors and its relationship with civil sectors, with the latest edition covering hot-button topics of late, including the contentious Ream Naval Base and the modernisation of the Kingdom’s defence force.

The ministry said the paper demonstrates Cambodia’s plan to upgrade and reform the Royal Cambodian Armed Forces (RCAF), while noting that such development concerned multiple facets of its operations, including the air force and heavy weaponry rescue efforts, and was not limited to the construction of Ream Naval Base.

In the preface of the 80-page white paper released on May 12, Prime Minister Hun Sen said: “Building [our] defence foundation is the top priority, which the RCAF must fulfil in order to protect the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Cambodia. The armed forces are formed by the people. Thus, the relationship between the people and the armed forces is crucial in bolstering the defence foundation for our nation.”

This year’s Defence White Paper is the third such policy document, with previous papers published in 2000 and 2006.

The paper outlined the government’s vision in the next decade, with a focus on capacity development, modernisation of the armed forces and enhancement of international cooperation. It said the capacity of the armed forces “should not be forced to remain in a deteriorated condition.”

With regard to Ream Naval Base, the white paper said the modernisation of the base is an integral part of the Royal Cambodian Navy’s capacity building plan. The US has recently accused Cambodia of allowing Chinese military presence in the base.

“Ream Naval Base modernisation is essential to [upholding] the sovereign rights of Cambodia to serve its interests and security of the region. This modernisation aims to effectively manage and control Cambodia's maritime domain and fully [join] with other countries in safeguarding peace and strengthening stability and security in the region,” the white paper said.

“This modernisation does not threaten any particular nation in the region, while Cambodia does not permit any foreign military base on its sovereign territory.”

Kin Phea, director of the Royal Academy of Cambodia’s International Relations Institute, said that currently, “nearly all” countries are strengthening their military due to multiple threats posed by regional and international issues, and that the modernisation of the defence sector is necessary because all nations must have a strong defence foundation.

This required reform and modernisation in weaponry, armed forces and assigning of military duties, he said, and was to be done in conjunction with the betterment of other factors that strengthen a nation, such as human resources, economy, trade and foreign policy.